Who is Wonder Woman?


By Allan Heinberg, Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-4012-1233-9 (HB) 978-1-4012-7233-3 (TPB)

Wonder Woman debuted in October 1941. With such a big anniversary and her second movie out at last (sort of) this year seems ideal to focus some attention on her lesser-known graphic triumphs. Here’s one I prepared earlier…

When the Amazing Amazon was relaunched in the wake of mega-crossover events Infinite Crisis and 52 with art stars Terry & Rachel Dodson illustrating the scripts of TV heavy hitter Allan Heinberg (Grey’s Anatomy, The O.C. and Sex and the City among others), there was much well-deserved media attention. However, the comic was plagued by missed deadlines and most of the series’ initial momentum was lost. After the fourth issue the saga was simply abandoned unfinished. A new writer stepped in with very impressive results (although that’s a tale for another time and, a separate review) while the original creators regrouped. The initial story-arc was eventually concluded in Wonder Woman Annual volume 2, #1.

When all the dust settled, the completed adventure was collected in this impressive if slim hardback and paperback and we can finally judge the story on its actual merit – unless you only read digital editions. Still. It can’t be long now, can it?

Following the reality realignments of Infinite Crisis, there was a hiatus of a year when Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman vanished. Sort of…

This story opens with an Amazon warrior battling some of Wonder Woman’s most fantastic villains and menaces, but she’s not Princess Diana of Themyscira. Rather Donna Troy, the original Wonder Girl, has taken the role – and excelled – but said oldest enemies have joined forces under the aegis of a mysterious mastermind and captured the replacement – as well as the new Wonder Girl…

Enter Sarge Steel, super spy Nemesis and the latest recruit to the Department of Metahuman Affairs, field agent Diana Prince! In case you’re a complete neophyte regarding Amazon continuity, that’s supposed to be a big, bewildering shock because Diana is secretly the original Wonder Woman herself…

What follows is an enjoyable romp with glamorous and spectacular “big visuals” art from the Dodsons, as Diana ultimately resumes her place in DC’s Trinity of megastars whilst also assuming a valid “ordinary” human life to complement the superwoman persona – although that’s a fairly relative term when said life consists of a super-spy day job.

This big, bold extravaganza repositions Wonder Woman at the heart of DC continuity and attempts to rationalise the disparate, if not clashing, elements that kept various versions of the character at the forefront of debate for decades. Most fans ask not Who is Wonder Woman but rather, Which version is Best?

Perhaps, in cases of such vigorous debate, maybe it’s safest simply to get them all…
© 2006, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Tales of the Batman: Steve Englehart


By Steve Englehart, Sal Amendola, Walt Simonson, Marshall Rogers, Irv Novick, Dusty Abell, Javier Pulido, Trevor Von Eeden & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9554-7 (HB)

Steve Englehart was born on April 22, 1947 and, after studying psychology and earning a Batchelor of Arts from Wesleyan University in 1969, began a multi-pronged creative career incorporating novels, games and comics. He began as an art assistant to Neal Adams: one of the inking all-stars dubbed the “Crusty Bunkers” but the early 1970s, had switched to scripting. He was one of the most popular and innovative writers of superheroes in the field on titles such as Captain America, Hulk, Captain Marvel and others. In 1973 he and collaborator Jim Starlin brought martial arts to comics with Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. In his near 50-year career he has created and scripted countless comics wonders, but will probably be best regarded foe his astounding efforts on Batman.

Although his contributions to the Dark Knight’s canon are relatively few, they are all of exceptional quality as proved by this commemorative hardback and digital tome, reprinting his stories from Batman #311, Batman: Dark Detective #1-6, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #109-111, Detective Comics #439, 469-476, Legends of the DC Universe #26-27 and The Batman Chronicles #19, cumulatively spanning March 1974 to September 2005.

Kicking off the tense drama and flamboyant action is stand-alone saga ‘Night of the Stalker’ (from Detective #439, 1974), illustrated by Vin and Sal Amendola, with Dick Giordano inking one of most powerful intense and stories in the canon, hinting at the psychological traumas driving Batman, and a precursor of many future tales. Here, the Dark Knight is helpless to prevent another young boy from losing his parents to crime and becomes a remorseless, relentless avenger until justice is done…

In the mid-1970s Marvel were kicking the stuffings out of DC Comics in terms of sales if not quality product. The most sensible solution – as always – was poaching away top talent. That strategy had limited long-term success but one major defection was Englehart, who had recently scripted groundbreaking, award-winning work on The Avengers, Defenders and Dr. Strange titles.

He was given the Justice League of America for a year but also requested – and was given – the Batman slot in flagship title Detective Comics. Expected to be daring, innovative and forward looking, he instead chose to invoke a classic and long-departed style which became a new signature interpretation, and one credited with inspiring the 1989 movie mega-blockbuster. It also gibed perfectly with the notions of artistic partner Marshall Rogers and his inseparable inker Terry Austin. However, initially Englehart was paired with artists Walt Simonson & Al Milgrom for the series, who jointly introduced not only a skeletal, radioactive new villain but also Gotham’s corrupt City Council chief, Rupert “Boss” Thorne in epic opening gambit ‘…By Death’s Eerie Light!’ and supplementary opus of corruption ‘The Origin of Dr Phosphorus’

Here the Caped Crimebuster is first politically isolated and then outlawed in his own city. The art team also limned sequel ‘The Master Plan of Dr. Phosphorus!’, debuting another landmark character: captivating and competent Modern Woman Silver St. Cloud.

With issue #471 (August 1977) relative newcomers Rogers & Austin took over and true magic began to be made. As the scripts brought back revered golden-age A-list villains, the art recaptured and reinforced the power and moodiness of the strip’s formative years: all whilst adding to the unique and distinctive iconography of the Batman.

Last seen in Detective Comics #46 (1940), quintessential Mad Scientist Hugo Strange came closer than any other villain to destroying both Bruce Wayne and the Batman in ‘The Dead Yet Live’ and ‘I Am The Batman!’ (Detective #471 and #472 respectively), briefly stealing his identity and setting in motion a diabolical scheme that would run through the entire sequence…

Teen Wonder Robin returned in #473’s ‘The Malay Penguin!’ as nefarious Napoleon of Crime the Penguin challenges a temporarily reunited Dynamic Duo to an entrancing, intoxicating duel of wits, after which ‘The Deadshot Ricochet’updates an old loser for the second ever appearance of a murderous high society dilettante sniper (after an initial outing in Batman #59, 1950). The tale so reinvigorated the third-rate trick-shooter that he’s seldom been missing from the DC Universe since; starring in a number of series such as Suicide Squad and Secret Six: in a couple of eponymous miniseries and on both silver and small screens.

The best was saved for last, with all the sub-plots concerning Silver St. Cloud, Boss Thorne, Gotham City Council, and even a recurring ghost culminating in THE classic confrontation with The Joker.

The absolute zenith in this too-short, stellar sequence resurrecting old foes could only star the Dark Knight’s nemesis at his most chaotic. Cover-dated February and April 1978, Detective #475-476 introduces ‘The Laughing Fish’ before culminating in ‘The Sign of the Joker!’ One of the most reprinted Bat-tales ever concocted, it was adapted as an episode of award-winning Batman: The Animated Adventures TV show in the 1990s.

In fact, you’ve probably already read it. But if you haven’t… what a treat you have awaiting you! Manic and murderous, the Harlequin of Hate goes on a murder spree after mutating fish. As seafood with the Joker’s horrific smile turn up in catches all over the Eastern Seaboard, the Clown Prince attempts to trademark them. When patent officials foolishly tell him it can’t be done, they start dying… publicly, impossibly and incredibly painfully…

The story culminates in a spectacularly apocalyptic clash among the city’s rooftops which shaped and informed the Batman mythos for decades after…

Having said all he wanted to say, Englehart left Batman and soon after quit comics for a few years.

He was enticed back for Batman #311 (May 1979, rendered by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin) as Batgirl joins the embattled hero to spoil a mad vengeance plot in Doctor Phosphorus is Back!’

Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths – which wiped multiple universes in exchange for a new unified, rationalised DCU – Legends of the Dark Knight was a Batman title employing star guest creators to reimagine the hero’s history and past cases for modern audiences. Englehart and illustrators Dusty Abell & Drew Graci contributed a sharp brain-twisting turn in issues #109-111 (August-October 2000) as ‘Primal Riddle’ – broken down into ‘Nasty, Brutish and Short!’, ‘Perhaps the Only Riddle That We Shrink From Giving Up!’ and ‘A Dumpster of Chèrées’, traces Batman’s recovery from a life-altering injury even as the manic Prince of Puzzlers offers his greatest and weirdest challenge yet…

For The Batman Chronicles #19 (Winter 2000) the writer skipped back to the earliest moments of Batman’s career, with artist Javier Pulido as ‘Got a Date with an Angel’ sees the neophyte avenger forced to choose between love and duty for the first time…

Legends of the DC Universe was an attempt by the publishers to bring updated classic stories to a fresh-eyed reading public. With #26-27 (March & April 2000), Englehart, Trevor Von Eeden & Joe Rubenstein present the flip side to the Joker-Fish sage as ‘The Fishy Laugh’ finds the Harlequin of Hate in Atlantis vying with Aquaman to be king of fish. The cod crisis only escalates until Batman finally swims in to end the ‘Reign of the Joker!’

Under Englehart, Rogers & Austin, Detective Comics had managed to be nostalgically avant-garde and iconoclastically traditional at the same time, setting both the tone and the character structure of Batman for generations. That made thoughts of a reunion run both constant and inevitable – like a school reunion where you forget yourself for a moment, then catch yourself pogoing to “God Save the Queen” in the bar mirror. Of course, the truth is you can’t ever go back and you just look like an idiot doing it now.

Although not quite as bad as that, miniseries Batman: Dark Detective #1-6 (running from July to September 2005) suffers from an excess of trying too hard as the titanic trio reunited to recount what happened after the major players reassembled on ‘Some Enchanted Evening’.

It begins as Silver St. Cloud returns to Gotham to help her new fiancé Senator Evan Gregory secure nomination as a Gubernatorial candidate. That means looking for donations from her old lover Bruce Wayne, and events are further complicated when the Joker announces his own run for the role. His tactics can be best described by his own slogan “Vote for Me …Or I’ll Kill You”. I think I’m seeing another parallel to modern real-world politics here…

The plot thickens in ‘You May See a Stranger’ when – amidst a growing body count – other lethal loons make their own sinister sorties. Now, as well as The Joker’s terrifyingly unconventional political tactics, Batman also has to deal with The Scarecrow’s unwitting release of Wayne’s repressed memories of a murder attempt upon himself the night after his parents were killed, and a frankly ludicrous clone-plot as Two Face tries to fix himself through Mad Science.

Before long, the shamefully inescapable occurs and Bruce and Silver succumb to unresolved passions in ‘Two Faces Have I’

Plagued by guilt – both long entrenched and of more recent vintage – the Dark Knight writhes in manufactured nightmares even as fresh horrors are actually happening in grim reality. ‘Thriller’ sees the Maniac of Mirth abduct Silver, and her recently un-engaged would-be Governor joins Batman in a rescue bid for ‘Everybody Dance Now’ that leads only to tragedy and doom in catastrophic concluding chapter ‘House’

These tales are just as fresh and welcoming today, their themes and scenes just as compelling now as then and this vision of Batman remains a unique and iconic one. This is a Bat-book everybody can enjoy: a lavish treat any Batfan or comics aficionado will always treasure.
© 1974, 1977-1979, 1998, 2000, 2005, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Shazam! The World’s Mightiest Mortal volume 2


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Gerry Conway, Elliot S! Maggin, Denny O’Neil, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dick Giordano, Rich Buckler, Tenny Henson, Alan Weiss, Don Newton, Bob Oksner & various (DC)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0117-2 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Joyous Superhero Fun… 9/10

One of the most venerated and loved characters in American comics was created by Bill Parker and Charles Clarence Beck as part of the wave of opportunistic creativity that followed the successful launch of Superman in 1938. Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett character moved swiftly and solidly into the area of light entertainment and even broad comedy, whilst as the 1940s progressed the Man of Steel increasingly left whimsy behind in favour of action and drama.

Homeless orphan and thoroughly good kid Billy Batson is selected by an ancient wizard to battle injustice and subsequently granted the powers of six gods and mythical heroes. By speaking aloud the wizard’s name – itself an acronym for the six patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury – he can transform from scrawny boy to brawny (adult) hero Captain Marvel.

At the height of his popularity, Captain Marvel hugely outsold Superman and was even published twice a month. However, as the decade progressed and tastes changed, sales slowed, and an infamous court case begun in 1941 by National Comics citing copyright infringement was settled. Like many other superheroes, the “Big Red Cheese” disappeared, becoming a fond memory for older fans. A big syndication success, he was missed all over the world…

In Britain, where an English reprint line had run for many years, creator/publisher Mick Anglo had an avid audience and no product, and transformed Captain Marvel into atomic age hero Marvelman, continuing to thrill readers into the early 1960s.

Then, as America lived through another superhero boom-&-bust, the 1970s dawned with a shrinking industry and wide variety of comics genres servicing a base that was increasingly founded on collectors and fans rather than casual or impulse buyers. National – now DC – Comics needed sales and were prepared to look for them in unusual places.

After the court settlement with Fawcett in 1953 they had secured the rights to Captain Marvel and his spin-off Family. Now, and though the name itself had been taken up by Marvel Comics (via a circuitous and quirky robotic character published by Carl Burgos and M.F. Publications in 1967), the publishing monolith decided to tap into that discriminating if aging fanbase.

In 1973, riding a wave of national nostalgia on TV and in the movies, DC brought back the entire beloved cast of the Captain Marvel crew in their own kinder, weirder universe. To circumvent the intellectual property clash, they named the new title Shazam! (‘With One Magic Word…’): the memorable trigger phrase used by myriad Marvels to transform to and from mortal form and a word that had already entered the American language due to the success of the franchise the first time around.

Now the latest star of film and TV is back in print in this stylish Hardback and digital compendium, collecting select material from Shazam! #14-17 and all of 19-35; and All-New Collectors’ Edition #C-58 (spanning July 1975 – May 1978).

The previous volume – ya gotta gettem all! – revealed how the entire Marvel family was trapped in time for a generation before being released to preserve gain justice and decency on their own kindler, gentler, more whimsical Earth and here Shazam! #19 introduces extra-dimensional delinquent Zazzo, the malevolent culprit revealed when Elliot S! Maggin and Kurt Schaffenberger ask ‘Who Stole Billy Batson’s Thunder?’.

Billy’s super sister Mary Marvel is the back-up feature, cannily solving E. Nelson Bridwell and Bob Oksner’s ‘Secret of the Smiling Swordsman!’, before the next issue teams the entire Marvel Family in full-length sci fi thriller ‘The Strange and Terrible Disappearance of Maxwell Zodiac!’, courtesy of Maggin and Schaffenberger.

Shazam! #21, 22, 23 and 24 were all reprint, represented here by covers from Ernie Chua & Bob Oksner, two from Schaffenberger and then another from Chua & Oksner, reflecting a scheduling change that saw the comic released quarterly.

I suspect, but have no proof, that this coincided with the TV show that ran in parallel being off-air, as – when issue #24 appeared in Spring 1976 – new editor Joe Orlando oversaw a massaging of the scenario which would see young Billy and Uncle Dudley (a mainstay of the TV incarnation) set off around America in a minivan as roving reporters, encountering threats and felons in America’s Bicentennial year.

Bridwell and Schaffenberger became the permanent creative team, with occasional inkers such as Vince Colletta, Bob Wiacek and Bob Smith pitching in, if seldom to the enhancement of Schaffenberger’s pencils.

There were even bigger changes in store. Shazam! #25 (September/October 1976) featured a team-up of the Captain with Mighty Isis, a TV character that DC was then licensing for a tie-in comic book. ‘Isis… as in Crisis!’ is by Denny O’Neil & Dick Giordano and sees Cap reduced to a cameo as Isis recalls how archaeologist Andrea Thomas uncovered an Egyptian Amulet and scroll, gaining the powers of an ancient goddess to fight modern crime and injustice…

That issue’s back-up ‘The Bicentennial Villain’ introduces a new roving format as TV reporter Billy briefly clashes with arch-nemesis Dr. Sivana and learns of a far-reaching plot to destroy America in its anniversary year, courtesy of Bridwell & Schaffenberger …

Issue #26 sees the saga properly launched in a highly enjoyable romp. ‘The Case of the Kidnapped Congress’ finds Billy and Uncle Dudley battling Sivana in Washington DC. Vince Colletta inked the self-explanatory ‘Fear in Philadelphia’, but that doesn’t detract from a right royal romp as the Mad Doctor uses a resurrection machine to bring back the greatest rogues in America’s history – a much shorter list to pick from in 1976…

Clearly having tremendous fun, writer Bridwell began his own resurrections: bringing back Fawcett and Quality Comics characters as guest-stars. First up was the ghostly Kid Eternity and Mister Keeper, and with issue #28 he scripted his masterstroke with ‘The Return of Black Adam’: a Golden-Age villain whose fabled single appearance was a landmark long remembered by fans.

That he is still a huge favourite today shows the astuteness of that decision. That was in Boston, with #29 set in Buffalo and Niagara Falls where ‘Ibac meets Aunt Minerva!’: a comedic battle of the sexes that was heavy on the hitting.

Another faux meeting with his greatest rival occurred in #30’s ‘Captain Marvel Fights the Man of Steel’, wherein the Batson bus reaches Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Here, inspired by a comic book Sivana recrates local folk legend Joe Magarac (the Paul Bunyan of Steel workers) and the Three Lieutenant Marvels guest-star.

All girl villain-team ‘The Rainbow Squad’ expose Captain Marvel’s gentlemanly weakness in #31, heralding the return of patriotic hero Minute Man to step in, step up and save the day.

Tenny Henson pencilled #32’s tale from Detroit (with Bob Smith inking) as aliens led by wicked space worm Mr. Mindattempt to eliminate baseball in ‘Mr. Tawny’s Big Game!’ and fans knew that the good old days were coming to an end. A radical change to Shazam!

issue #33 heralded the metamorphosis in ‘The World’s Mightiest Race’ (Bridwell, Henson & Colletta) as Nuclear robotic menace Mister Atom tries to disrupt the Indianapolis 500 motor race. The radical about-face came with #34 (April 1978) as Bridwell, Alan Weiss & Joe Rubinstein ditch the charming light-heartedness to insert a brutal dose of reality. ‘The Fuhrer of Chicago’ reintroduces sadistic super-fascist Captain Nazi, but his plans to annexe the city are brought to sorry end by a vengeful Captain Marvel Junior, eager for some payback on the monster who crippled him…

The realism was reinforced in #34 as Bridwell, Don Newton & Schaffenberger decreed ‘Backward, Turn Backward, O Time in Your Flight!’ with the Marvels battling murderous Beastman King Kull’s attempts to roll back history and re-establish his extinct race and empire. The war carries on into Hell itself and features a return for infernal foe Sabbac

Part of DC’s experimental line of bigger, bolder comics, All-New Collectors’ Edition #C-58 was a tabloid-sized, 72-page extravaganza intended to restore the “wow-factor” to the medium and industry.

Crafted by Gerry Conway, Rich Buckler & Giordano, ‘When Earths Collide!’ features a trans-dimensional team up of Captain Marvel and Superman, engineered by primordial Martian sorcerer Karmang, who seeks to resurrect his people and civilisation by destroying two Earths. Aid, abetting and adding tension are Black Adam and the Quarrmer Sand-Thing Superman, with Supergirl and Mary Marvel also intent on averting Armageddon.

The epic adventure wraps up with a series of essays and vignettes from Shazam! #14-17 and 22, detailing the histories of the Patrons in ‘Legends of Shazam!’ – specifically Solomon, Hercules, Atlas and Zeus in prose by Bridwell with Achilles rendered in strip form by Schaffenberger & George Papp.

Although still controversial amongst older fans like me, the 1970’s incarnation of Captain Marvel/Shazam! has a tremendous amount going for it. Gloriously free of angst and agony (mostly), beautifully, simply illustrated, and charmingly scripted, these are clever, funny wholesome adventures that would appeal to any child and positively promote a love of graphic narrative. There’s a horrible dearth of exuberant superhero adventure these days. Isn’t it great that there is somewhere to go for a little light action?
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: A Celebration of 60 Years


By Gardner Fox, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Brad Meltzer, Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin, George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Chuck Patton, Kevin Maguire, Howard Porter, Ed Benes, Jim Lee, Jim Cheung & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9951-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comic Perfection and the ideal Stocking Stuffer… 10/10

A keystone of the DC Universe, the Justice League of America is the reason we have comics industry today. This stunning compilation – part of a series reintroducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts – is available in hardback and digital formats and offers a too-brief but astoundingly enticing sequence of snapshots detailing how the World’s Greatest Superheroes came to be, and be and be again…

Collecting material from The Brave and the Bold #28; Justice League of America #29, 30, 77, 140, 144, 200; Justice League of America Annual #2, Justice League #1, 43 and Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (covering July 1960- August 2018), the landmarks selected are all preceded by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in their development, beginning with Part I – 1960-1964: The Happy Harbor Years

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – by which we mean the launch of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s progress was the combination of individual sales-points into a group. Thus, what seems blindingly obvious to everyone with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was irrefutably proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces. Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick…

The Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comic books, and – when Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956 – the true key moment came a few years later with the inevitable teaming of his freshly reconfigured mystery men…

When wedded to the relatively unchanged big guns who had weathered the first fall of the Superhero at the beginning of the 1950s, the result was a new, modern, Space-Age version of the JSA and the birth of a new mythology.

That moment that changed everything for us baby-boomers came with issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold, a classical adventure title that had recently become a try-out magazine like Showcase.

Just in time for Christmas 1959, ads began running…

“Just Imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time… have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!”

When the Justice League of America was launched in issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold (March 1960) it cemented the growth and validity of the genre, triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comics in America and even spread to the rest of the world as the 1960s progressed.

Crafted by Gardner Fox & Mike Sekowsky with inking from Bernard Sachs, Joe Giella & Murphy Anderson, ‘Starro the Conqueror!’ saw Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars unite to defeat a marauding alien starfish whilst Superman and Batman stood by (in those naive days editors feared that their top characters could be “over-exposed” and consequently lose popularity). The team also picked up an average American kid as a mascot. “Typical teenager” Snapper Carr would prove a focus of fan controversy for decades to come…

The series went from strength to strength and triumph to triumph, peaking early with a classic revival as the team met the Justice Society of America, now sensibly relegated to an alternate Earth rather callously designated Earth-2.

From issues #29-30, ‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ reprise the first groundbreaking team-up of the JLA and JSA, after the metahuman marvels of yet another alternate Earth discover the secret of multiversal travel. Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are ruthless villains from a world without heroes who see the costumed crusaders of the JLA and JSA as living practice-dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon…

With this cracking 2-part thriller a tradition of annual summer team-ups was solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless joys for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

Although a monster hit riding a global wave of popularity for all things masked and caped, the JLA suffered like all superhero features when tastes changed as the decade closed. Like all the survivors, the team adapted and changed…

A potted history of that interregnum, emphasising the contributions of iconoclastic scripters Denny O’Neil and Steve Englehart follows in Part II – 1969-1977: The Satellite Years after which groundbreaking issue #77 exposes a new kind of America.

America was a bubbling cauldron of social turmoil and experimentation at this time, with established beliefs constantly challenged and many previously cosy comics features were using their pages to confront issues of race, equality, and ecological decline. O’Neil and his young colleagues began to utterly redefine superhero strips with their relevancy-driven stories; transforming complacent establishment masked boy-scouts into uncertain, questioning champions and strident explorers of the revolution.

Here, the team’s mascot suddenly grows up and demands to be taken seriously. The drama commences with the heroes’ collective confidence and worldview shattered as enigmatic political populist Joe Dough suborns and compromises their beloved teen sidekick in ‘Snapper Carr… Super-Traitor!’ Crafted by O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, the coming-of age-yarn changed the comfy, cosy superhero game forever…

By March 1977, the team was back in traditional territory but still shaking up the readership. Issue #140, by Steve Englehart, Dick Dillin & Frank McLaughlin questioned heroism itself in ‘No Man Escapes the Manhunter!’ as the venerable Guardians of the Universe and their beloved Green Lanterns are accused of planetary extinctions – until the JLA expose a hidden ancient foe determined to destroy galactic civilisation…

Sadly, all you get here is the opening chapter, but it’s worth tracking down the entire saga elsewhere…

Closely following is issue #144 ‘The Origin of the Justice League – Minus One!’ (July 1977) by the same team. Here Green Arrow does a little checking and discovers the team have been lying about how and why they first got together: a smart and hugely enjoyable conspiracy thriller guest-starring every late 1950’s star in the DC firmament…

Change is a comic book constant and events described in the essay fill in crucial context before Part III: The Detroit Years 1982-1987 precis’ the first Beginning of the End for the World’s Greatest Superheroes, starting with blockbuster anniversary giant #200.

Here scripter Gerry Conway and artists George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Brett Breeding, Terry Austin & Frank Giacoia reprise, re-evaluate and relive the alien Appellax invasion that brought the heroes together in ‘A League Divided’: a blockbuster saga involving every past member…

Big changes began in Justice League of America Annual #2 1984. ‘The End of the Justice League!’ by Conway, Chuck Patton & Dave Hunt saw the team disband following a too-close-to-call alien attack, leading Aquaman to recruit a squad of full-time agents rather than part-time champions. Relocating to street level in Detroit, his old guard veterans Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna and Vixen also began training a next generation of costumed crusaders…

The biggest innovation came after a couple of publishing events recreated the universe and a new kind of team was instituted. In 1986 DC’s editorial leaders felt their 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline, redefine and even add new characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths was such a spectacular commercial success, those movers-&-shakers felt more than justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman, the moribund and unhappy Justice League of Americawas earmarked for a radical revision. Editor Andy Helfer assembled plotter Keith Giffen, scripter J.M. DeMatteis and untried penciller Kevin Maguire to produce an utterly new approach to the superhero monolith: they played them for laughs…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7. The new team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel (now Shazam!), Dr. Fate, Green Lantern Guy Gardner and Mr. Miraclewith heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men.

The first story introduced charismatic filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who used wealth and influence to recreate the neophyte and rather shambolic team who started their march to glory by fighting and defeating a bunch of rather inept terrorist bombers in initial outing ‘Born Again’ (Giffen, DeMatteis Maguire & Terry Austin).

An eventful decade passed and the team were rebooted again, as described in Part IV: The Watchtower Years 1986-2003

After the Silver Age’s greatest team-book died a slow, painful, wasting death, not once but twice, DC were taking no chances with their next revival of the Justice League of America, tapping Big Ideas wünderkind Grant Morrison to reconstruct the group and the franchise.

The result was a gleaming paradigm of comic book perfection which again started magnificently before gradually losing the attention and favour of its originally rabid fan-base. Apparently, we’re a really fickle and shallow bunch, us comics fans…

That idea that really clicked? Put everybody’s favourite Big-Name superheroes back in the team.

It worked, but only because as well as name recognition and star quantity, there was a huge input of creative quality. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality. With JLA you could see all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be on every page.

The drama begins in ‘Them!’ (January 1997 by Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell) as a family of alien super-beings called the Hyperclan dramatically land on Earth and declare that they’re going to usher in a new Golden Age – at least by their standards.

Almost simultaneously the current iteration of the Justice League is attacked in their orbital satellite and only narrowly escape utter destruction. Tragically, one of their number does not survive…

Hyperclan’s very public promises to make Earth a paradise and attendant charm offensive does not impress veteran heroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman or even the latest incarnations of Flash and Green Lantern.

These legends see their methods and careers questioned and are not impressed by seeming miracles or summary executions of super-criminals in the streets. They know there’s something not right about the overbearing sanctimonious newcomers…

The hits kept coming: a strung of superb adventures that enticed the readership. One of the very best and often cited as one of the best Batman stories ever created, multi-part paean to paranoia Tower of Babel saw immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul’s latest plan to winnow Earth’s human population to manageable levels well underway. Again, only the first instalment is here but you know where else to look…

Issue #43 declared ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (by Mark Waid, Porter & Drew Geraci), as a series of perfectly planned pre-emptive strikes cripple Martian Manhunter, Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Plastic Man and Green Lantern whilst Batman is taken out of the game by the simple expedient of stealing his parents’ remains from their graves…

Comics stars increasingly became multi-media franchises at the beginning of this century, and Part V: The Crisis Years 2006-2011 acknowledges the change as the printed form started a constant stream of ever-escalating blockbuster scenarios to compete. A perfect example is Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (October 2006) as Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes & Sandra Hope examine ‘Life’.

Thanks to the events Infinite Crisis, One Year Later and 52, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman convene as a star-chamber to reform the Justice League of America as a force for good, only to discover that events have escaped them and a new team has already congealed (I really can’t think of a better term) to defeat the imminent menace of Professor Ivo, Felix Faust and the lethal android Amazo, plus a fearsome mystery mastermind and a few classic villains as well.

The tale is told through the heartbreaking personal tragedy of the Red Tornado, who achieves his deepest desire only to have it torn from him: an enjoyable if complex drama that hides its true purpose – that of repositioning the company’s core team in an expanded DCU which encompasses all media, tacitly accepting influences from TV shows, movies and animated cartoons underpinning everything – even the Super Friends and Justice League Unlimited-inspired HQ.

In 2011, DC took a draconian leap: restarting their entire line and continuity with a “New 52”. Justice League volume 2 #1 (November) led from the front as ‘Justice League Part One’ by biggest guns Geoff Johns, Jim Lee & Scott Williams introduced a number of newly debuted heroes acrimoniously pulled together to fight an alien invader called Darkseid

This celebration concludes with Part VI: The Media Era 1986-2018 and Justice League volume 4 #1 (August 2018) wherein Scott Snyder, Jim Cheung & Mark Morales kick off a colossal, years-long company-wide event. ‘The Totality Part 1’ sees the universe fall apart, its creator escape eternal imprisonment and the JLA hard-pressed to prevent the final triumph of Evil as represented by Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom

Adding immeasurably to the wonderment is a superb gallery of covers by Sekowsky, Anderson, Rich Buckler, Dillin & McLaughlin, Pérez, Patton & Giordano, Maguire & Austin, Porter, Dell & Geraci, Ed & Mariah Benes, Lee & Williams and Jim Cheung.

The Justice League of America has a long, proud history of shaking things up and providing dynamic provocative, drama delivered with quality artwork. This compelling assortment is staggeringly entertaining and a monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a strong core concept matured over decades of innovation.
© 1960, 1964, 1969, 1977, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2005, 2011, 2018, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superboy: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Bill Finger, Otto Binder, Robert Bernstein, Jim Shooter, Paul Levitz, Gerry Conway, Elliot S! Maggin, Geoff Johns, Karl Kesel, Brian Michael Bendis, Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, John Sikela, Curt Swan, Al Plastino, George Papp, James Sherman, Joe Staton, Phil Jimenez, Jerry Ordway, George Pérez, Ivan Reis, Tom Grummett, Dusty Abell, Matthew Clark, Francis Manapul, Viktor Bogdanovic, Jonathan Glapion & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9951-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Superb Supercharged Stocking Stuffer… 9/10

Superman is the initiating act and spark that created the superhero genre. Without him we would have no modern gods to worship. However, less than a decade after his launch, creators Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster also devised a concept nearly as powerful and persistent: the sheer delight of a child no adult could dominate or control…

The ever-reinventing DC Universe has hosted many key entertainment concepts that have done much to bring about the vibrant comics industry of today. This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series reintroducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts – is available in hardback and digital formats and offers an all-too-brief sequence of snapshots detailing how one of the most beguiling came to be, and be and be again…

Collecting material from More Fun Comics #101; Superboy #10, 89; Adventure Comics #210, 247, 271, 369-370; DC Comics Presents #87; Infinite Crisis #6; Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #233, 259; Adventures of Superman #501; Superboy (volume 2) #59; Teen Titans (volume 3) #24, Adventure Comics (volume 2) #2; Young Justice (volume 3) #3 and Superman (volume 4) #6, 10-11, and introducing the many characters who have earned the soubriquet of the Boy of Steel, the landmark moments are all preceded by a brief critical analysis by Karl Kesel, outlining the significant stages in their development.

It begins with Part I – 1945-1961: A Boy and His Dog

After the Man of Tomorrow had made his mark as Earth’s premier champion, his originators took a long look and reasoned that a very different tone could offer a fresh look. What would it be like for a fun-loving lad who could do literally anything?

The answer came in More Fun Comics #101 (January 1945) as Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster crafted ‘The Origin of Superboy!’, fleshing out doomed Krypton and baby Kal-El’s flight and giving him accessible foster parents and a childhood full of fun and incident…

The experiment was a huge hit. The lad swiftly bounced into the lead slot of Adventure Comics and in 1949, his own title, living a life set twenty years behind his adult counterpart.

Cover-dated October 1950, Superboy #10 originated ‘The Girl in Superboy’s Life’, wherein Bill Finger & John Sikela introduced Smallville newcomer Lana Lang, who immediately saw resemblances between Clark Kent and the Boy of Steel and set out to confirm her suspicions…

Despite battling crooks, monsters, aliens, scandal and the girl next door, Superboy enjoyed a charmed and wonderful life which only got better in Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955), as Otto Binder, Curt Swan & Sy Barry introduced ‘The Super-Dog from Krypton!’ Although waywardly mischievous and dangerously playful, Krypto heralded a wave of survivors from the dead world and made Superboy feel less lonely and unique. Every boy needs a dog…

The next tale here is a certified landmark. Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) was at the cusp of the Silver Age costumed character revival, as Otto Binder & Al Plastino introduced a concept that would reshape comics fandom: ‘The Legion of Super-Heroes!’

The many-handed mob of juvenile universe-savers debuted in a Superboy tale wherein three mysterious kids invited the Smallville Sensation to the future to join a team of metahuman champions inspired by his historic feats. The throwaway concept inflamed public imagination and after a slew of further appearances throughout Superman Family titles, the LSH eventually took over Superboy’s lead spot in Adventure for their own far-flung, quirky escapades, with the Caped Kryptonian reduced to one of the crowd…

Before then though, Adventure Comics #271 (April 1960) revealed ‘How Luthor Met Superboy!’ Siegel & Plastino united to depict how teenaged scientist Lex Luthor and Superboy became fast friends, before the genius became deranged when a laboratory fire extinguished by the Caped Kryptonian caused Lex to lose his hair. Enraged beyond limit, the boy inventor turned his talents to crime…

Robert Bernstein & George Papp then introduced ‘Superboy’s Big Brother!’ in Superboy #89 (June 1961) in which an amnesiac, super-powered space traveller crashes in Smallville, speaking Kryptonese and carrying star-maps written by the Boy of Steel’s long-dead father…

Jubilant, baffled and suspicious in equal amounts, the Superboy eventually, tragically discovers ‘The Secret of Mon-El’ by accidentally exposing the stranger to a lingering, inexorable death, before desperately providing critical life-support by depositing the dying alien in the Phantom Zone until a cure could be found…

Anybody who regularly reads these reviews know how crotchety and hard-to-please I can be. Brace yourself…

The next section – Part II – 1968-1980: The Space Age – concentrates on Superboy’s Legion career. That’s not the problem because those are great stories, well deserving of their own book, but they’re wasted here while the Boy of Steel’s adventures from this period are completely neglected. That’s work by the likes of Frank Robbins, Binder, Jim Shooter, Curt Swan, Bob Brown, Wally Wood and others we don’t get to see. Poor editorial decision, that…

Calm again, so let’s see how the Boy of Tomorrow fares one thousand years from now…

During this period the youthful, generally fun-loving and carefree Club of Champions peaked; having only just evolved into a dedicated and driven dramatic action series starring a grittily realistic combat force in constant, galaxy-threatening peril.

Although now an overwhelming force of valiant warriors ready and willing to pay the ultimate price for their courage and dedication, science itself, science fiction and costumed crusaders all increasingly struggled against a global resurgence in spiritual questioning and supernatural fiction…

The main architect of the transformation was teenaged sensation Jim Shooter, whose Legion of Super-Hero scripts and layouts (generally finished and pencilled by the astoundingly talented and understated Curt Swan) made the series accessible to a generation of fans growing up with their heads in the Future. Ultimately, however, as tastes and fashions shifted, the series was unceremoniously ousted from its ancestral home and full-length adventures to become a truncated back-up feature in Action Comics. Typically, that shift occurred just as the stories were getting really, really good and truly mature…

Here tense suspense begins with Adventure Comics #369’s (June 1968) and ‘Mordru the Merciless!’(Shooter, Swan & Jack Abel) as the Legion is attacked by their most powerful enemy, a nigh-omnipotent sorcerer the entire assemblage only narrowly defeated once before.

A sneak attack shatters the team and only four escape, using a time bubble to flee to the remote and archaic time-period where Superboy lived. With him come Mon-El, (freed from the Phantom Zone to become a Legion stalwart), Shadow Lass and Duo Damsel – the last remnants of a once-unbeatable team.

Mordru’s magic is stronger though and even the time-barrier cannot daunt him…

Disguised as mere mortals, the fugitive Legionnaires’ courage shines through. When petty gangsters take over Smallville, the teen heroes quash the parochial plunderers and opt to return to the 30th century and confront Mordru, only to discover he’s found them first…

The saga concludes in #370 and ‘The Devil’s Jury!’ wherein the band escape and hide in plain sight by temporarily wiping their own memories to thwart the Dark Lord’s probes. Against appalling odds and with only Clark’s best friend Pete Rossand Insect Queen Lana Lang to aid them, the heroes’ doomed last stand only succeeds because Mordru’s overbearing arrogance causes his own downfall.

Then, when the exhausted fugitives got back the future, they joyously learn that Dream Girl and benign sorceress White Witch have undone the deluded Dark Lord’s worst atrocities…

Since that time the fortunes and popularity of the Legion have perpetually waxed and waned, with their future history tweaked and overwritten, retconned and rebooted over and over again to comply with editorial diktat and popular fashion. After disappearing from the newsstands, the team returned as Guests in Superboy, before eventually taking over the title. Deju Vu, much?

From November 1977, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #233, sees the Kryptonian join his teammates to thwart ‘The Infinite Man Who Conquered the Legion!’: an extra length blockbuster battle by Paul Levitz, James Sherman & Bob Wiacek, after which issue #259 (January 1980) drops Superboy and the… to become Legion of Super-Heroes #259, subsequently ending an era.

‘Psycho War!’ by Gerry Conway, Joe Staton & Dave Hunt sees the time-lost teen targeted by a deranged war veteran using futuristic trauma weapons, forcing his legion chums to mindwipe Kal-El and return him to his original time forever…

In the mid-1980s, DC’s editorial hierarchy felt their vast 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline, redefine and even add new characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths resulted in such spectacular commercial success, those movers-&-shakers must have felt more than justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman, many moribund and directionless titles were reconsidered for a radical revision. It didn’t all go to plan…

The background on a new Boy of Steel is covered in the essay and tales comprising Part III 1985-2006: Dark Reflection, which opens with two stories from DC Comics Presents # 87 (November 1985) by Elliot S! Maggin, Swan & Al Williamson.

In ‘Year of the Comet’ Superman of Earth-1 meets and mentors teen Clark Kent from an alternate world previously devoid of superheroes and alien invaders, after which ‘The Origin of Superboy-Prime’ exposes the crucial differences that would make Earth Prime’s Last Son of Krypton so memorable…

Events culminated in ‘Touchdown’ by Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez, Jerry Ordway, George Pérez, Ivan Reis, inkers Andy Lanning, Oclair Albert Marc Campos, Drew Geraci, Sean Parsons, Norm Rapmund, Art Thibert, from issue #6 of mega event Infinite Crisis (May 2006). Teen Clark had evolved into Superboy-Prime – one of the most sadistic and unstoppable monsters in DCU history – but here he met his end battling another kid calling himself Superboy…

That hero gets his own out-of-chronology section: Part IV 1993-2019: The New Kid detailing how he grew out of another different publishing landmark.

Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, Superman was stripped-down and back to basics, grittily re-imagined by John Byrne, and marvellously built upon by a succession of immensely talented comics craftsmen, resulted in some genuine comics classics.

Most significant was a 3-pronged story-arc which saw the martyrdom, loss, replacement and inevitable resurrection of the World’s Greatest Superhero in a stellar saga which broke all records and proved that a jaded general public still cared about the venerable, veteran icon of Truth, Justice and the American Way.

The dramatic events also provided a spectacular springboard for a resurgent burst of new characters who revitalised and reinvigorated more than one ailing franchise over the next decade, all exploding from braided mega-saga “Reign of the Supermen” which introduced a quartet of heroes each claiming the mantle of Superman (Don’t panic: the Real Deal Man of Steel returned too!).

The final contender for the S-shield cropped up in Adventures of Superman #501. ‘…When He Was a Boy!’ (Kesel, Tom Grummett & Doug Hazlewood) reveals the secret history of a brash and cocky kid wearing an adaptation of the Man of Tomorrow’s outfit and claiming to be a clone of the deceased hero, recently escaped from top secret bio-factory Cadmus.

After alienating everybody at the Daily Planet, the horny, inexperienced juvenile latches onto ambitious journalist – and hottie – Tana Moon, falling under the spell of corrupt media mogul Vinnie Edge. Soon the kid is fighting crime live on TV to boost ratings…

Blending fast action with smart sassy humour, the clone Superboy was a breakout hit running for years, and gradually infiltrating the established Superman Family. A key moment came in Superboy (volume 2) #59 – by Kesel, Dusty Abell, Dexter Vines – as a virtual ‘Mission to Krypton’ results in the clone finally earning a family name as Kon-El of the House of El…

In the build-up to DC’s Infinite Crisis crossover event, many long-running story-threads were all pulled together ready for the big bang. Crafted by Geoff Johns, Matthew Clark & Art Thibert ‘The Insiders Part 1’ (from Teen Titans #24, July 2005) reveals how Superboy’s belief that he was Superman’s clone is shattered after learning that half of his DNA comes courtesy of Lex Luthor.

Just as Kon-El is about to share the revelation with his Teen Titan team-mates, Luthor activates a deep-seated psychological program that overrides Superboy’s consciousness and makes him evil and murderous…

From November 2009, ‘The Boy of Steel Part Two’ (Adventure Comics volume 2 #2, by Johns & Francis Manapul) then offers a gentler moment as Kon-El, now living in Smallville as Conner Kent, enjoys a potentially romantic interlude with team mate Wonder Girl.

We then jump to May 2019 and ‘Seven Crises Part Three’ from Young Justice volume 3 #3, by Brian Michael Bendis, Patrick Gleason, Viktor Bogdanovic & Jonathan Glapion. Having skipped two universe-altering events (Flashpoint and Rebirth) the formerly erased-from-continuity Impulse has found his old friend Conner living on mystic Gemworld as part of his quest to put his old band back together. It’s fast, furious, heart-warming and hilarious. You should really get all of this tale in its own compilation – Young Justice: Gemworld – even before I review it next year…

Wrapping up this saunter in Super-kids’ shoes is the freshest take on the concept in decades. Part V 2016 and Beyond: Like Father, Like Son offers a too short glimpse at Jon Kent, the child of Superman and Lois Lane, inserted into the mainstream continuity after the New 52 Superman died. If this is making your brain hurt, don’t fret. It’s really unnecessary background for some truly exemplary comics yarns…

Superman (volume 4) #6, 10, 11 are by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, Mark Morales & Christian Alamy, and firstly depict the ‘Son of Superman’ helping dad defeat evil Kryptonian mechanoid The Eradicator before settling into outrageous action comedy beside, with and frequently against, Damian Wayne: son of Bruce and the latest, most psychotic Robin yet. ‘In the Name of the Father: World’s Smallest Parts One and Two’ pits the junior odd couple against aliens, monsters, girls, but mostly each other. It’s unmissable stuff and you should expect me to wax delirious about the new Super Sons in the New Year…

Adding immeasurably to the wonderment is a superb gallery of covers by Swan with Stan Kaye & Abel, Neal Adams, Mike Grell, Dick Giordano, Eduardo Barreto, Jim Lee & Sandra Hope, Grummett, Kesel & Hazlewood, Mike McKone & Marlo Alquiza, Manapul, Doug Mahnke & Wil Quintana and Gleason with Alejandro Sanchez, Gray & John Kalisz.

Superboy has a long, proud history of shaking things up and providing off-kilter fun to offset the general angst level of Superhero storytelling. Even with my petty caveats, this compelling primer of snapshots is staggeringly entertaining and a monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a strong core concept matured over decades of innovation.
© 1960, 1964, 1969, 1977, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2005, 2011, 2018, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Bat and the Cat – 80 Years of Romance


By Bill Finger & Bob Kane, Jack Schiff, Len Wein, Alan Brennert, Darwyn Cooke, Jeph Loeb, Ed Brubaker, Tom King, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Irv Novick, Joe Staton, Tim Sale, Jim Lee, Sean Phillips, David Finch, Mikel Janín, Joëlle Jones & many and various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9585-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Romance for All Seasons… 8/10

There’s a hideously misogynistic adage from my ancient childhood that I can’t get out of my head after reading this compilation of tales celebrating the second longest love story in comic books…

“Man chases Woman until She catches Him.”

Once you’ve stopped scowling/screaming/vomiting, I ask you to consider whether, in this one specific instance, there might be kernel of truth to be gleaned here.

A sultry, sneaky, powerful thief has been alternately vamping and thumping a stiff-necked, doctrinaire, high-minded myrmidon for eight decades now and that relationship is still going strong: perpetually running hot and cold and generating plenty of sparks and engrossing entertainment for all of us voyeuristic fans.

As much promoting the Batman/Catwoman wedding publishing event as celebrating 80 years of tantalising sexual tension and masked roleplay, this carefully curated hardcover and/or digital compilation gathers material from Batman (volume 1) #1, 3, 15, 324, 392, 615; The Brave and the Bold #197; Solo #1; Catwoman #32; Batman (volume 3) #24, 44, 50 – as well as offering a gallery of breathtaking covers – and opens sans preamble or editorial comment with ‘The Cat’ by Bill Finger, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson from the Dark Knight’s first solo-starring issue, released in  Spring 1940.

Third story in that landmark was ‘The Cat’ – who later added the suffix ‘Woman’ to her name to avoid any possible doubt or confusion – who plied her felonious trade of jewel theft aboard the wrong cruise-liner, rapidly falling foul for the first time to the dashing Dynamic Duo. Even then she tried to escape the consequences of her actions by vamping the big boy scout… with no appreciable result…

The larcenous lady returned in the Fall for #3 in Finger, Kane, Robinson & George Roussos’ ‘The Batman vs. the Cat-Woman’: clad in cape and costume but once again in well over her masked head by stealing for – and from – all the wrong people…

She graduated to full villain status in Batman #15 (February/March 1943, by Jack Schiff, Kane & Robinson) as ‘Your Face is your Fortune!’ exposed the Feline Fury taking on a job at a swanky Beauty Parlour to gain intel for her crimes, but inadvertently falling for Society Batchelor Bruce Wayne

There were decades of stories before Batman #324 (June 1980) but Len Wein, Irv Novick & Bob Smith’s ‘The Cat Who Would be King’ is significant as it reveals a growing intimacy leading to something more as the Dark Knight remorselessly battles Catman for a mystical remedy to the disease inexorably killing Selina Kyle

Next up is an alternate universe yarn, where The Brave and the Bold #197 (April 1983) sees Alan Brennert, Joe Staton & George Freeman reveal how in 1955 the Earth-2 Batman and Catwoman clashed with the Scarecrow before finally sheathing their claws and getting married in ‘The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne!’

Doug Moench, Tom Mandrake & Jan Duursema then detail ‘A Town on the Night’ (Batman #392, February 1986) as a newly-reformed Feline Avenger futilely seeks to get her masked man to take her on a date in Gotham City, after which Solo #1 (December 2004) expands on the theme for ‘Date Knight’ by Darwyn Cooke & Tim Sale. Of course, Selina is back to her wild, wandering, pilfering ways now, which she thinks adds a slice of spice to the affair…

Extracted from extended epic Hush (chapter 8 from July 2003, if you’re counting), Batman # 615 – ‘The Dead’ by Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee & Scott Williams – is pretty incomprehensible on its own, but is significant for one single interaction between the Cat and the Bat…

Catwoman #32 from August 2004 by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips & Stefano Gaudiano and reveals how the on-again, off-again relationship gets very serious indeed in ‘Only Takes a Night’ before we jump to August 2017 and Batman volume 3, wherein issues #24, 44 and 50 give us the highlights of the whirlwind romance that declares ‘Every Epilogue is a Prelude’ (Tom King, David Finch Clay & Seth Mann) and enquires ‘Bride or Burglar’ (King, Mikel Janín & Joëlle Jones) before finally presenting ‘The Wedding of Batman & Catwoman’ (by King, Janín and an army of guest creators.

Also included is a gallery of classic covers for tales which didn’t make the final cut here, and some wedding dress designs, to tantalise and keep all the romantics on edge for the next 80 years…

Fun and thoughtful, whilst reviving a few lesser-known yarns, this is a solid serving of froth and cake to delight fans of Costumed Dramas. And who doesn’t love a wedding, right?
© 1940, 1980, 1983, 1986, 2003, 2004, 2018, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Robin the Boy Wonder


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Ed Hamilton, John Broome, Leo Dorfman, Gardner Fox, Cary Bates, Mike Friedrich, Frank Robbins, Denny O’Neil, Bob Haney, Elliot Maggin, Bob Rozakis, Ross Andru, Curt Swan, Sheldon Moldoff, Pete Costanza, Chic Stone, Gil Kane, Irv Novick, Murphy Anderson, Dick Dillin, Rich Buckler, Bob Brown, MikeGrell, A. Martinez, Al Milgrom & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1676-4 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Classic Crimebusting Capers with Certified Kid Appeal… 9/10

As previously mentioned, there are a lot of comics anniversaries occurring in this otherwise dreadful year. The ultimate and original sidekick is probably the most significant of DC’s representatives, and indeed there have been a few intriguing collections released to celebrate the occasion. This one, however, is probably the best but remains criminally out of print, if not utterly unavailable…

Robin the Boy Wonder debuted in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940). Created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger & Jerry Robinson, he was a juvenile circus acrobat whose parents were murdered by a mob boss. The story of how Batman took the orphaned Dick Grayson under his scalloped wing and trained him to fight crime has been told, retold and revised many times over the decades and still regularly undergoes tweaking to this day.

Grayson fought beside Batman until 1970 when, as an indicator of those turbulent times, he flew the nest, becoming a Teen Wonder college student. His creation as a junior hero for younger readers to identify with has inspired an incomprehensible number of costumed sidekicks and kid crusaders, and Grayson continued in similar innovative vein for the older, more worldly-wise readership of America’s increasingly rebellious youth culture.

The first Robin even had his own solo series in Star Spangled Comics from 1947 to 1952, a solo spot in the back of Detective Comics from the end of the 1960s – a position he alternated and shared with Batgirl and a starring feature in anthology comic Batman Family. During the 1980s he led the New Teen Titans, initially in his original costumed identity but eventually in the reinvented guise of Nightwing, all while re-establishing a (somewhat turbulent) working relationship with his mentor Batman.

This broad ranging monochrome compilation volume covers the period from Julie Schwartz’s captivating reinvigoration of the Dynamic Duo in 1964 until 1975 with Robin-related stories and material from Batman #184, 192, 202, 213, 227, 229-231, 234-236, 239-242, 244-246, 248-250, 252, 254 and portions of 217; Detective Comics #342, 386, 390-391, 394-395, 398-403, 445, 447, 450-251; World’s Finest Comics #141, 147, 195, 200; Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #91, 111, 130 and Justice League of America #91-92.

The wonderment begins with the lead story from Batman #213 (July-August 1969) – a 30th Anniversary reprint Giant – which featured an all-new retelling of ‘The Origin of Robin’ courtesy of E. Nelson Bridwell, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, which perfectly reinterpreted that epochal event for the Vietnam generation. After that the tales proceed in (more or less) chronological order, covering episodes where Robin took centre-stage.

First up is ‘The Olsen-Robin Team versus “the Superman-Batman Team!”’ (from World’s Finest #141, May 1964). In a stirring blend of science fiction thriller and crime caper, the underappreciated sidekicks fake their own deaths to undertake a secret mission even their adult partners must remain unaware of… for the very best of reasons of course. The sequel from WF #147 (February 1965, Hamilton, Swan & Klein) delivers an engaging drama of youth-in-revolt as ‘The New Terrific Team!’ quit their assistant roles to strike out on their disgruntled own. Naturally there’s a perfectly reasonable – if incredible – reason here, too…

Detective Comics #342 (August 1965) featured ‘The Midnight Raid of the Robin Gang!’ by John Broome, Sheldon Moldoff & Joe Giella, wherein the Boy Wonder joins a youthful gang of costumed criminals after which Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #91 (March 1966) offers ‘The Dragon Delinquent!’ (Leo Dorfman & Pete Costanza) wherein Robin and the cub reporter both, unknown to each other, infiltrate the same biker gang… with potentially fatal consequences.

‘The Boy Wonder’s Boo-Boo Patrol!’ originally appeared as a back-up in Batman #184 (September 1966 by Fox, Chic Stone & Sid Greene), showing the daring lad’s star-potential in a clever tale of thespian skulduggery and classic conundrum solving, before ‘Dick Grayson’s Secret Guardian!’ (from Batman #192, June 1967 by Fox, Moldoff & Giella) displays his physical prowess in one of comic books’ first instances of the now over-used exo-skeletal augmentation gimmick.

‘Jimmy Olsen, Boy Wonder!’ (SPJO #111, June 1968, by Cary Bates & Costanza) finds the reporter trying to prove his covert skills by convincing the Gotham Guardian that he was actually Robin, whilst that same month in Batman #203 the genuine article tackles the ‘Menace of the Motorcycle Marauders!’ (by Mike Friedrich, Stone & Giella) consequently learning a salutary lesson in the price of responsibility…

Cover-dated April 1969, Detective Comics #386 featured the Boy Wonder’s first solo back-up in what was to become his semi-regular home-spot for years. ‘The Teen-Age Gap!’ (as described by Friedrich, Andru & Esposito) depicts a High School Barn Dance which only narrowly escapes becoming a riot thanks to his diligent intervention, after which Gil Kane & Murphy Anderson assume the art-chores with #390’s ‘Countdown to Chaos!’ (August 1969), bringing the series stunningly alive. Friedrich concocted a canny tale of corruption and kidnapping leading to a paralysing city ‘Strike!’ for the Caped kid to spectacularly expose and foil in the following issue.

Batman #217 (December 1969) was a shattering landmark in the character’s long history, as Dick Grayson leaves home to attend Hudson University. Only the pertinent portion from ‘One Bullet Too Many!’ by Frank Robbins, Irv Novick & Dick Giordano is included here, closely followed by ‘Strike… Whilst the Campus is Hot’ (Detective #394 from the same month, by Robbins, Kane & Anderson) as the callow Freshman stumbles into a campus riot organised by criminals and radical activists, forcing the now Teen Wonder to ‘Drop Out… or Drop Dead!’ to stop the seditious scheme…

Detective Comics #398-399 (April & May 1970) featured a 2-part spy-thriller with Vince Colletta replacing Anderson as inker. ‘Moon-Struck’ has lunar rock samples borrowed from NASA apparently causing a plague among Hudson’s students until Robin exposes a Soviet scheme to sabotage the Space Program in ‘Panic by Moonglow’.

The 400th anniversary issue (June 1970) finally teamed the Teen Wonder with his alternating back-up star in ‘A Burial For Batgirl!’(Denny O’Neil, Kane & Colletta): a college-based murder mystery which again heavily references the political and social unrest then plaguing US campuses, but which still finds space to be smart and action-packed as well as topical, before chilling conclusion ‘Midnight is the Dying Hour!’ wraps up the saga.

Never afraid to repeat a good idea, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #130 (July 1970) sees Bob Haney & Murphy Anderson detail the exploits of ‘Olsen the Teen Wonder!’ as the boy reporter again apes Batman’s buddy – this time to infiltrate an underworld newspaper – whilst World’s Finest #195 (August 1970) finds Jimmy & Robin targeted for murder by the Mafia in ‘Dig Now, Die Later!’ by Haney, Andru & Esposito.

Simultaneously in Detective #402, ‘My Place in the Sun’ (Friedrich, Kane & Colletta), embroils Grayson and fellow Teen Titan Roy “Speedy” Harper in a crisis of social conscience, before our scarce-bearded hero wraps up his Detective run with corking crime-busting caper ‘Break-Out’ in the September issue.

Robin’s further adventures transferred to the back of Batman, beginning with #227 (December 1970) and ‘Help Me – I Think I’m Dead!’ (Friedrich, Novick & Esposito) as ecological awareness and penny-pinching Big Business catastrophically collide on the campus, beginning an extended epic seeing the Teen Thunderbolt explore communes, alternative cultures and the burgeoning spiritual New Age fads of the day.

‘Temperature Boiling… and Rising!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia from #229, February 1971) continues the politically-charged drama which is uncomfortably interrupted by a trenchant fantasy team-up with Superman sparked when the Man of Steel attempts to halt a violent campus clash between students and National Guard.

Crafted by Friedrich, Dick Dillin & Giella, ‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ (World’s Finest #200, February 1971), has brothers on the opposite side of the teen scene kidnapped with Robin and Superman to a distant planet where undying vampiric aliens wage eternal war on each other. A return to more pedestrian perils in Batman #230 (March 1971) sees ‘Danger Comes A-Looking!’ for our young hero in the form of a gang of right-wing, anti-protester jocks and a deluded friend who prefers bombs to brotherhood, courtesy of Friedrich, Novick & Dick Giordano.

‘Wiped Out!’ (#231, May 1971) offers an eye-popping end to the jock gang whilst #234 sees a clever road-trip tale in ‘Vengeance for a Cop!’, when a campus guard is gunned down forcing Robin to track the only suspect to a commune. ‘The Outcast Society’ has its own unique system of justice, but eventually the shooter is apprehended in the cataclysmic ‘Rain Fire!’ (#235 and 236 respectively).

The Collective experience blossoms into psychedelic and psionic strangeness in #239 as ‘Soul-Pit’ (illustrated by new penciller Rich Buckler) finds Grayson’s would-be girlfriend, Jesus-freaks and runaway kids all sucked into a telepathic duel between a father and son, all played out in the ‘Theatre of the Mind!’ before exposing the ‘Secret of the Psychic Siren!’ and culminating in a lethal clash with a clandestine cult in ‘Death-Point!’ in Batman #242 (June 1972).

After that eerie epic we slip back a year to peruse the Teen Wonder’s participation in one of the hallowed JLA/JSA summer team-ups, beginning in Justice League of America #91 (August 1971) and ‘Earth… the Monster-Maker!’, as the Supermen, Flashes, Green Lanterns, Atoms and a brace of Hawkmen from two separate Realities simultaneously and ineffectually battle an alien boy and his symbiotically-linked dog (sort of) on almost identical planets a universe apart. The still time to painfully patronise the Robins of both until ‘Solomon Grundy… the One and Only!’ gives everybody a brutal but ultimately life-saving lesson on acceptance, togetherness, youthful optimism and lateral thinking…

Elliot Maggin, Novick & Giordano then set ‘The Teen-Age Trap!’ (Batman#244, September 1972), which sees Grayson mentoring troubled kids – and finding plenty of troublemakers his own age – whilst ‘Who Stole the Gift from Nowhere!’ is a delightful old-fashioned change-of-pace mystery yarn.

‘How Many Ways Can a Robin Die?’ by Robbins, Novick, Dillin & Giordano (Batman #246, (December 1972) is actually a Dark Knight story with the Teen Wonder reduced to helpless hostage throughout, whereas #248 opens another run of solo stories with ‘The Immortals of Usen Castle’ (Maggin, Novick & Frank McLaughlin) wherein another deprived-kids day trip turns into an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where are You?, whilst the ‘Case of the Kidnapped Crusader!’ (pencilled by Bob Brown) put the Student Centurion on the trail of an abducted consumer advocate and ‘Return of the Flying Grayson!’ by Maggin, Novick & McLaughlin from #250 painfully reminded the hero of his Circus past after tracking down pop-art thieves.

Batman #252 (October 1973) features Maggin, Dillin & Giordano’s light-hearted pairing of Robin with a Danny Kaye pastiche for charming romp ‘The King from Canarsie!’, whilst ‘The Phenomenal Memory of Luke Graham!’ (#254 January/February 1974 and inked by Murphy Anderson) causes nothing but trouble for the hero, his college professors and a gang of robbers…

It was a year before the Teen Wonder’s solo sallies resumed with ‘The Touchdown Trap’ in Detective Comics #445 as new scripter Bob Rozakis and guest artist Mike Grell catapulted our hero into a 50-year old college football feud that refused to die, whilst ‘The Puzzle of the Pyramids’ (#447 and illustrated by A. Martinez & Mazzaroli) offers another clever crime conundrum.

This magically eclectic monochrome compendium concludes with an action-packed, chase-heavy human drama drawn by Al Milgrom & Terry Austin as ‘The Parking Lot Bandit!’ and ‘The Parking Lot Bandit Strikes Again!’ (Detective #450-451, August & September 1975), giving the titanic teen one last chance to strike a bit of terror into the hearts of evil-doers…

These stories span a turbulent and chaotic period for comic books: perfectly encapsulating and describing the vicissitudes of the superhero genre’s premier juvenile lead: complex yet uncomplicated adventures drenched in charm and wit, moody tales of rebellion and self-discovery and rollercoaster, all-fun romps. Action is always paramount and angst-free satisfaction is pretty much guaranteed. These cracking yarns are something no fan of old-fashioned Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction should miss.
© 1964-1975, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Golden Age Volume Five


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, John Sikela, Leo Nowak, Ed Dobrotka, George Roussos, Sam Citron & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8797-9 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Vital Vintage Superhero Fun and Fantasy… 9/10

The American comicbook industry – if it existed at all by now – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without The Man of Tomorrow. His unprecedented invention and adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation gave birth to an entire genre if not an actual art form.

Imitation is the most honest compliment and can be profitable too. Superman triggered an inconceivable army of imitators and variations and, within three years of his Summer 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early Action Ace had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, and whimsical comedy. Once the war in Europe and the East finally involved America, to that list was added patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters – all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

In comicbook terms at least, Superman was master of the world. He had already utterly changed the shape of the fledgling industry by the time of these tales. There was a successful newspaper strip, foreign and overseas syndication and the Fleischer studio was producing some of the most expensive – and best – animated cartoons ever conceived.

Thankfully the quality of the source material was increasing with every four-colour release, and the energy and enthusiasm of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster had infected the burgeoning studio that grew around them to cope with the relentless demand.

This latest addition to the splendid Golden Age/Silver Age strand of DC reprint compendia presents more of an epochal run of raw, unpolished but viscerally vibrant stories by Siegel, Shuster and the sterling crew of their “Superman Studio”. This stalwart band collaboratively set the nascent comics world on fire with crude, rough, uncontrollable wish-fulfilling, cathartically exuberant exploits of a righteous and superior man dealing out summary justice equally to social malcontents, exploitative capitalists, thugs and ne’er-do-wells, and captured the imagination of a generation.

This fifth remastered paperback collection (also available digitally) of the Action Ace’s early exploits – reprinted in the order they first appeared – covers the turbulent, times spanning May 1942 to February 1943: encompassing escapades from Action Comics #48-57, Superman #16-19 and his solo-adventures from World’s Finest Comics #6-8 (an oversized anthology title where he shared whimsical cover-stardom with Batman and Robin).

As always, every comic appearance is preceded by the original cover illustration depicting Superman trouncing scurrilous Axis War-mongers and reminding readers what we were all fighting for – captivating graphic masterpieces from Fred Ray, Jack Burnley and John Sikela – whilst each tale is credited to prolific co-originator Siegel.

I sometimes think – like many others I know – that superhero comics were never more apt or effective than when they were whole-heartedly combating global fascism with explosive, improbable excitement courtesy of a myriad of mysterious, masked marvel men.

All the most evocatively visceral moments of the genre seem to come when gaudy gladiators soundly thrashed – and I hope you’ll please forgive the offensive contemporary colloquialism – “Nips and Nazis”. However, even in those long-ago dark days, comics creators were wise enough to offset their tales of espionage and imminent invasion with a barrage of home-grown threats and gentler or even more whimsical four-colour fare…

Jerry Siegel was producing some of the best stories of his career, showing the Action Ace in all his morale-boosting glory; thrashing thugs, spies and masters of bad science whilst America kicked the Axis fascists in the pants…

Co-creator Joe Shuster, although plagued by punishing deadlines for the Superman newspaper strip and his rapidly failing eyesight, was still fully involved in the process, overseeing the stories and drawing character faces whenever possible, but as the months passed the talent pool of the “Superman Studio” increasingly took the lead in the comicbooks as the demands of the media superstar grew and grew. Thus, most of the stories in this volume were drawn by John Sikela with occasional support from others…

The magic begins with ‘The Merchant of Murder!’ from Action Comics #48 wherein the hero topples an insidious gang of killers led by The Top who uses wartime restrictions to sell used cars with deadly faults and defects until reporter Lois Lane and her soft-spoken leg man get involved…

Sikela flew solo on all of Superman #16, beginning with ‘The World’s Meanest Man’ as the Caped Kryptonian crushes a mobster attempting to plunder a social program giving deprived slum-kids a holiday in the countryside, before moving on to battle an astrologer prepared to murder his clients to prove his predictions in ‘Terror from the Stars’.

‘The Case of the Runaway Skyscrapers’ pits the Metropolis Marvel against Mister Sinister, a trans-dimensional tyrant who makes buildings vanish, after which the power-packed perilous periodical concluded with a deeply satisfying and classic campaign against organised crime as Superman crushes the ‘Racket on Delivery’.

Action Comics #49 introduced The Puzzler – a despicable, deadly and obsessive criminal maniac who hated losing and never played fair in ‘The Wizard of Chance’ (inked by Ed Dobrotka).

The debut of Superman propelled National Comics to the forefront of their fledgling industry and in 1939 the company collaborated with the organisers of the New York World’s Fair: producing two commemorative comic books celebrating the event. The Man of Tomorrow prominently featured on the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics beside such four-colour stars as Zatara, Gingersnap, The Sandman and Batman and Robin. The spectacular card-cover 96-page anthologies were a huge hit and convinced National’s owner and editors that such an over-sized package of their pantheon of characters, with Superman and Batman prominently featured, would be a worthwhile proposition.

The bountiful format was retained for a wholly company-owned quarterly which retailed for the then-hefty price of 15¢. Launching as World’s Best Comics #1 (Spring 1941), the book transformed into World’s Finest Comics from #2, beginning a stellar 45-year run which only ended as part of the massive decluttering exercise that was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

From WFC #6 (Summer 1942), Siegel, Leo Nowak & Sikela’s ‘The Man of Steel vs. the Man of Metal’ pits our hero and newsboy Jimmy Olsen against Metalo: a mad scientist whose discoveries make him every inch Superman’s physical match…

Back in Action Comics #50, Clark Kent and Lois are despatched to Florida to scope out sporting skulduggery in ‘Play Ball!’– a light-hearted baseball tale illustrated by Nowak & Ed Dobrotka before Superman #17 offers a quartet of tales beginning with ‘Man or Superman?’ (pencilled by Shuster with Sikela inking), wherein Lois first begins putting together snippets of evidence and at last sensing that klutzy Clark might be hiding a Super-secret, even as the subject of her research tangles with sinister saboteur The Talon.

Following that, ‘The Human Bomb’ (art by Nowak) sees a criminal hypnotist transform innocent citizens into walking landmines until the tireless Action Ace scotches his wicked racket.

Sikela handled the last two tales in the issue beginning with ‘Muscles for Sale!’, in which Superman’s Fortress of Solitudeand Trophy Room debut and the Man of Steel battles another mad mesmerist turning ordinary citizens into dangerously overconfident louts, bullies and thieves, whilst ‘When Titans Clash!’ depicts a frantic and spectacular duel of wits and incredible super-strength after Luthor regains the mystic Power Stone to become Superman’s physical – but never intellectual – master …

Action Comics #51 introduces the canny faux-madness of practical-joking homicidal bandit The Prankster in the rollercoaster romp in Sikela’s ‘The Case of the Crimeless Crimes’ and the next issue features the ‘The Emperor of America!’, wherein an invading army are welcomed with open arms by all Americans except the indignantly suspicious Man of Steel who single-handedly liberates the nation in a blistering, rousing call-to-arms classic…

As the war progressed the raw passion and sly wit of Siegel’s stories and the rip-roaring energy of Shuster and his team were galvanised by the parlous state of the planet and Superman got even became better and more flamboyant to deal with it all. His startling abilities and take-charge, can-do attitude won the hearts of the public at home and he was embraced as a patriotic tonic for the troops across the war-torn world.

The rise was meteoric, inexorable and unprecedented. He was the indisputable star of Action and World’s Finest Comics plus his own dedicated title, whilst a daily newspaper strip (begun on 16th January 1939, with a separate Sunday strip following from 5th November of that year) garnered millions of new fans globally. A thrice-weekly radio serial had been running since February 12th 1940 and, with a movie cartoon series, games, toys, apparel and a growing international media presence, Superman was swiftly becoming the entire Earth’s hero…

Although the gaudy burlesque of evil aliens, marauding monsters and slick super-villains still lay years ahead of our hero, thrilling tales of villainy, criminality, corruption and disaster were just as engrossing and spoke powerfully of the tenor of the times, and are all dealt with in a direct and captivating manner by our relentlessly entertaining champion in summarily swift and decisive fashion.

No “To Be Continueds” here!

A perfect example of the done-in-one tale is Siegel, Nowak & Sikela’s ‘The Eight Doomed Men’ from World’s Finest Comics #7: a tale involving a coterie of ruthless millionaires targeted for murder because of the wicked past deeds of their privileged college fraternity. This enthralling crime mystery is suitably spiced up with flamboyant high-tech weaponry that pushes the Man of Tomorrow to his limits…

Superman #18 (September/October 1942) then offers a quartet of stunning sagas, leading with Sikela’s ‘The Conquest of a City’ wherein Nazi infiltrators use a civil defence drill to infiltrate the National Guard and conquer Metropolis in the Fuehrer’s name… until Superman spearheads the counter-attack…

Nowak’s ‘The Heat Horror’ posits an artificial asteroid threatening to burn the city to ashes until the Metropolis Marvel defeats Lex Luthor, the manic mastermind who initially aimed it at Earth.

‘The Man with the Cane’ offers a grand, old-fashioned and highly entertaining espionage murder mystery for Dobrotka & Sikela to illustrate after which Superman takes on his first fully costumed super-villain when ‘The Snake’ perpetrates a string of murders during construction of a river tunnel in a moody Nowak-drawn masterpiece.

Sikela is inked by George Roussos on fantastic thriller ‘The Man Who put Out the Sun!’ from Action Comics #53, wherein bird-themed bandit Night-Owl uses “black light” technology and ruthless gangsters to plunder at will until the Man of Steel takes charge, whilst in #54, ‘The Pirate of Pleasure Island!’ (Sikela) follows the foredoomed career of upstanding citizen Stanley Finchcomb, a seemingly civilised descendent of ruthless buccaneers who succumbs to madness and becomes a modern day merciless marine marauder. Or perhaps he truly is possessed by the merciless spirit of his ancestor Captain Ironfist in this enchanting supernatural thriller…?

A classic (and much reprinted) fantasy shocker opened Superman #19. ‘The Case of the Funny Papers Crimes’ (Sikela & Dobrotka) sees bizarre desperado Funnyface bring the larger-than-life villains of the Daily Planet’s comics page to terrifying life in a grab for loot and power, after which ‘Superman’s Amazing Adventure’ (Nowak) finds the Man of Steel battling incredible creatures in an incredible extra-dimensional realm – but all is not as it seems…

Some of the city’s most vicious criminals are commanded to kill a stray dog by the infamous Mr. Z in ‘The Canine and the Crooks’ (Nowak) and it takes all of Clark and Lois’ deductive skills to ascertain why before ‘Superman, Matinee Idol’breaks the fourth wall for readers as the reporters visit a movie house to see a Superman cartoon in a shameless yet exceedingly inventive and thrilling “infomercial” plug for the Fleischer Brothers cartoons then currently astounding movie-goers; all lovingly rendered by Shuster and inked by Sikela…

This latest leaf through times gone by continues with a witty and whimsical Li’l Abner spoof illustrated by Sikela & Dobrotka. ‘A Goof named Tiny Rufe’ focuses on desperate cartoonist Slapstick Sam who co-opts, plagiarises and ruins the simple lives of a couple of naïve hillbillies to fill his idea-empty panels and pages… until Superman intercedes to give the hicks their lives back and the devious dauber the drubbing he so richly deserves……

World’s Finest #8 (Winter, 1942-1943) next exposed ‘Talent Unlimited’ (Sam Criton & Sikela) as Superman tracks down a missing heiress who had abandoned wealth for a stage career and poor but honest theatrical friends. Unfortunately, even though she didn’t want her money, other people did…

A brace of episodes from Action Comics brings this gleaming Golden Age visit to a close, starting with ‘Design for Doom!’ from #56. Illustrated by Sikela, it pits the Caped Kryptonian against a deranged architect who creates global city-wrecking catastrophes simply to prove the superiority of his own creations.

Superman was pitifully short on returning villains in the early days so #57’s return of the Prankster as ‘Crime’s Comedy King’ made a welcome addition to his meagre Rogues Gallery, especially as the Macabre Madcap seems here to have turned over a new philanthropic leaf. Of course, there’s malevolence and a big con job at the heart of his transformation…

As fresh, thrilling and compelling now as they ever were, these endlessly re-readable epics are perfectly presented in these glorious paperback collections where the graphic magic defined what being a Super Hero means, with every tale dictating the basic iconography of the genre for all others to follow.

These Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at absurdly affordable prices and in a durable, comfortingly approachable format. What dedicated comics fan could possibly resist them?
© 1942, 1943, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up volume 1


By Sholly Fisch, Dario Brizuela & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401249465 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: All-Ages Fun and Frolic… 8/10

It’s been bad year for everybody, but from my selfish and blinkered perspective, the graphic arts have been particularly diminished by the loss of many giants. Here’s an offhand tribute to two more…

The links between kids’ animated features and comicbooks are long established and, I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end…

Although never actual comics workers, animation titans and series writers Joe Ruby (March 30th 1933-August 26th 2020) and Ken Spears (March 12th 1938-November 6th 2020) co-originated dozens of cartoon shows which ultimately translated into multi-million comic book sales, joy and glee for generations and a subtle reshaping of the World’s cultural landscape. They also popularised the superhero concept on TV, through shows such as Superman, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show and Thundarr the Barbarian, consequently employing former funnybook creators such as Doug Wildey, Alex Toth, Steve Gerber, Jack Kirby and other comics giants. For all this, they are most renowned for devising mega-franchise Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

Over decades of screen material, Scooby-Doo and his sidekicks Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Freddy became global icons, and amidst the mountain of merchandise and derivatives generated by the franchise was a succession of comic book series from Gold Key (30 issues beginning December 1969 and ending in 1974), through Charlton (11 issues 1975-1976), Marvel (9 issues 1977-1979), Harvey (1993-1994) and Archie (21 issues, 1995-1997). The creative cast included Phil DeLara, Jack Manning, Warren Tufts, Mark Evanier, Dan Spiegle, Bill Williams, and many others.

In 1997, DC Comics acquired all the Hanna Barbera properties for its Cartoon Network imprint, which was for a very long time the last bastion of children’s comics in America. It produced some truly magical homespun material (such asTiny Titans, Batman: Brave and the Bold or Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!) as well as stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Ben 10 and vintage gems such as The Flintstones and Scooby Doo

In 2013, the mystery-solving pesky kids fully integrated with the DCU via a digital series of team ups that inevitably manifested as comics books and graphic novels. Compiling material from Scooby-Doo! Team-Up #1-6 (January-November 2014) this first fabulous trade paperback – or eBook – features a wild parade of joint ventures from writer Sholly Fisch illustrator Dario Brizuela, colourists Franco Riesco & Heroic Age and letterers Saida Temofonte & Deron Bennett.

It all begins with Mystery Inc. aiding Dynamic Duo Batman and Robin in a hunt for mutated scientist Kirk Langstrombefore being diverted by a gang of fake flyers in ‘Man-Bat and Robbin’!’ after which issue #2 asks ‘Who’s Scared?’ As the Caped Crusader and Ace, the Bat-Hound enjoy seeing the original Scooby gang admitted to the legendary Mystery Analysts of Gotham City, the terror-inducing Scarecrow strikes, and only the canine contingent can resist his latest fear chemicals…

Still visiting Gotham City, the gang discover ‘Two Mites Make It Wrong’ as impulsive imp Bat-Mite starts his reality-altering pranks again and normality is only possible through the intervention of unforeseen antithesis Scooby-Mite

Channelling a contemporary surreal TV hit, ‘Teen Titans – Ghost!’ then brings the Mystery Machine to Jump City for a spot of haunting at Titans Tower, before Daphne and Velma visit Wonder Woman on Themyscira and indulge in a Kanga rodeo whilst the boys mess about in the invisible jet before reuniting to solve a mythological monster mystery causing ‘Trouble in Paradise’

This initial outing concludes with a mass masked hero marathon when a visit to the Super Friends’ Hall of Justice leads to a ghost hunt. Mystery soon solved, the gang, Wonder Twins Zan and Jayna, the Justice League of America and Supergirl then must all battle the notorious Legion of Doom in ‘A (Super) Friend in Need’

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV kids, this fast-paced, funny and superbly inclusive parcel of thrills skilfully revisits the charm of early DC in stand-alone mini-sagas no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a terrific tome offering perfect, old fashioned delight. What more do you need to know?
© 2014, 2015 Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and all related characters and elements are ™ DC Comics. Scooby-Doo and all related characters and elements are ™ and © Hanna-Barbera.

The Flash of Two Worlds Deluxe Edition


By Gardner Fox, John Broome, Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, Sid Greene & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9459-5 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Superhero Wonderment… 10/10

As previously stated, there have been a lot of comic book anniversaries this year, possibly none more significant than original speedster The Flash who debuted in 1940. That’s happily led to a swathe of splendid vintage material being revived, such as this tome from 2009, gathering material that truly reshaped how the industry and the fanbase consumed their reading matter: a stunning collection gathering some of the most influential and beloved stories of the Silver Age.

Way back then in 1956, Super-Editor Julius Schwartz ushered in that epoch with his Showcase successes The Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the Justice League of America (happy sixtieth!) and more revivals – which in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire, which further changed the way comics were made and read…

Whereas 1940s tales were about magic and macho, the Silver Age polished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausible rationalistic concepts quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of a generation of baby-boomer kids.

The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds: the very crux of this celebration gathering the first half dozen Barry Allen team-ups with his predecessor Jay Garrick: specifically, the contents of The Flash #123, 129, 137, 151, 170 and 173, originally seen between September 1961 and September 1967…

The continuing adventures of the Scarlet Speedster were the bedrock of the Silver Age Revolution. After ushering in the triumphant return of the costumed superhero concept, the Crimson Comet – with key writers John Broome and Gardner Fox at the reins – set an unbelievably high standard for superhero adventure in sharp, witty tales of technology and imagination, illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but the few he did were all dynamite; none more so than the full-length epic which literally changed the scope of American comics forever. Following an Introduction from Flash-Fanatic Geoff Johns and Foreword by Paul Levitz, you can see how and why…

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123, September 1961 and inked by Joe Giella) introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity which grew by careful extension into a multiversal structure comprising Infinite Earths. Once established as a cornerstone of a newly integrated DCU through a wealth of team-ups and escalating succession of cosmos-shaking crossover sagas, a glorious pattern was set which would, after joyous decades, eventually culminate in a spectacular Crisis on Infinite Earths

During a benefit gig, Flash (police scientist Barry Allen) accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds the comic book hero upon whom he based his own superhero identity actually exists.

Every ripping yarn he had avidly absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his comrades on the controversially designated “Earth-2”. Locating his idol, Barry convinces the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains make their own criminal comeback…

The floodgates were opened, and over the following months and years many Earth-1 stalwarts met their counterparts, either via annual summer collaborations in the pages of Justice League of America or in their own individual series. Schwartz even had a game go at reviving a cadre of the older titans in their own titles. Public approval was decidedly vocal and he used DC’s try-out magazines to take the next step: stories set on Earth-2 exclusively featuring Golden Age characters. Of those bold sallies only The Spectre graduated to his own title…

Received with tumultuous acclaim by the readership, the Earth-2 concept was revisited months later in #129’s ‘Double Danger on Earth!’ (June 1962) which also teasingly reintroduced evergreen 1940s stalwarts Wonder Woman, The Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

‘Vengeance of the Immortal Villain!’ from #137 (June 1963) was the third incredible Earth-2 crossover, and saw both Flashes in action against 50,000-year-old tyrant Vandal Savage to save the abducted Justice Society of America: a tale leading directly to the veteran team’s first meeting with the Justice League of America and the subsequent creation of an annual team-up tradition.

When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ introduced the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple versions of costumed crusaders, public pressure had begun almost instantly to agitate for the return of the Greats of the “Golden Age” but the Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet, put readers off. If they could only see us now…

A less well-known but superbly gripping team-up tale is ‘Invader from the Dark Dimension!’ (Flash #151, March 1965,): another full-length shocker wherein demonic super-bandit The Shade ambitiously infiltrates Earth-1 as the opening gambit in an avaricious attempt to plunder both worlds…

Flash #170 (May 1967) was scripted by John Broome and inked by the sublime Sid Greene, reuniting the Speedsters after a gap of two years to face the ‘The See-Nothing Spells of Abra Kadabra!’, with the Earth-1 Vizier of Velocity hexed by the cunning conjuror and rendered unable to detect the villain’s actions or presence.

Sadly for the sinister spellbinder, Jay Garrick is visiting and calls on the services of JSA pals Doctors Fate and Mid-Nite to counteract the wicked wizard’s wiles…

Promptly following and concluding this cornucopia of cosmic chills, Flash #173 (September 1967, by Broome, Infantino & Greene again) featured a titanic triple team-up as Barry, Wally “Kid Flash” West and Jay were sequentially shanghaied to another galaxy as putative prey for alien hunter Golden Man in ‘Doomward Flight of the Flashes!’

However, the sneaky script slowly reveals devilish layers of intrigue since the sinister stalker’s Andromedan super-safari conceals a far more scurrilous purpose for the three speedy pawns before the wayward wanderers finally fight free and find their way home again…

Still irresistible and compellingly beautiful after all these years, the stories collected here – in lavish hardback or handy digital editions – shaped American comics for decades and are still influencing not only today’s funnybooks but also the wave of animated shows, movies and TV series which grew from them. These are tales and this is a book you simply must have.
© 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1967, 2009, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.